Always Available, Always Attached: The Social Uses of Mobile Phones and Social Media in Close Relationships

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Although there is a high level of concern about the effects of the near constant use of digital media in everyday life, the findings are mixed and inconclusive. In this dissertation, I propose that one way to understand the inconclusive results is through investigating the communication dynamics of close relationships in digital media. Bridging together media multiplexity theory and attachment theory, the contributions of this dissertation are threefold. First, I study communication across the multimedia landscape to more closely capture the totality of interpersonal communication in close relationships, rather than communication on individual media. Second, this study advances connected availability as one psychological process explaining how communicating with close partners on mobile phones and social media influences subjective well-being. Third, connected availability was conceptualized as a mutually influential dyadic process that could simultaneously explain the positive and negative consequences of communication technologies. An experience sampling method was employed to study media use and subjective well-being in 114 cohabitating romantic dyads. Five brief surveys were distributed at random intervals for seven days to both members of the couple. The data suggest that cohabitating romantic couples regularly blended together offline and online communication, and this mixed-media communication influenced their subjective well-being. Results from the longitudinal dyadic data analysis found that the integration of communication technologies in close relationships was neither good nor bad for subjective well-being. The relationship between media multiplexity and subjective well-being was multidimensional, including positive, negative, and curvilinear effects. The perception that a romantic partner is immediately available for help through the interpersonal multimedia landscape was associated with increased subjective well-being for that person as well as improved subjective well-being in their partner. This result suggests that people may feel happier after communication technology use because their partner perceives a greater ability to connect with them anytime, anywhere. Thus, connected availability explained many of the positive consequences but none of negative consequences, which was counter to expectations. This dissertation builds a relational perspective on the well-being consequences of living in a highly digital world and a multiplexity-level dimension to the debate surrounding communication technologies and subjective well-being.
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Mass communication; attachment; close relationships; Social psychology; availability; mobile phones; Communication; subjective well-being; Social Media
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Bazarova, Natalya N.
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Byrne, Sahara E.
Hazan, Cynthia
Humphreys, Lee
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Ph.D., Communication
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Government Document
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Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International
dissertation or thesis
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